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COMBINE NOTEBOOK: Later Draft Dates Mean New Approach For GMs; Other Notes

Posted Feb 21, 2014

Two extra weeks viewed differently by NFL executives.



INDIANAPOLIS – Football executives and coaches are creatures of habit, which is why you never know how they’re going to react when you throw a kink into their pre-planned schedules.

The National Football League is forcing their teams to adapt to a change in the timing of the upcoming draft that is certain to put those habits to the test. For the first time, the draft will not be held in the month of April, moving back two weeks to May 8-10, and while to some that doesn’t appear to be a big deal, others admit it will be an adjustment.

“I’ve been asked that question before,” said Miami Dolphins General Manager Dennis Hickey, who is running his first draft and NFL Scouting Combine as a GM. “The reason I’m not fond of it, if you’re prepared, I like the draft earlier, just because my preparation leading up to it goes back to May the previous year. But it gives us an opportunity to go back to more tape.”

One group that benefits from the schedule change is the draft prospects, especially those coming off of injury that can use the extra time to get healthy and possibly schedule extra workouts with teams. There are always a handful of players unable to workout at the Combine because it’s not far enough removed from the end of the season and they have to rely on their pro days and regional combines.

In terms of what’s getting accomplished this week, not much is impacted from the evaluation standpoint. Every front office and coaching staff has its own agenda but they don’t vary much, only after the trip to Indy does it begin to differentiate.

“The one thing we did that we adjusted differently, we adjusted our meetings a couple weeks back,” Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. “The one thing I didn’t want to do was have everything done on a normal schedule when we were sitting there waiting for two weeks when the draft comes. We just adjusted our schedule accordingly. Another thing is, it will give you another opportunity to get out to some of these pro days a little bit more. But hopefully all the kids will work here, so we won't have to chase them around.”

Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim summed it up best when it came to the pluses and minuses of the new draft dates.

“It just helps the preparation process and gives you a little more time, particularly for guys like myself who haven’t gone out on the road as much to see the players at the college level,” he said. “But in some respects you can also say we get into the business of over thinking, so we go out in the fall and you fall in love with these players and then you spend the spring confusing yourself. So now it’s just two more weeks that you have a chance to confuse yourself, so that can be tough.”

HICKEY LEFT GOOD IMPRESSION IN TAMPA BAY

Lovie Smith and Ruston Webster know Hickey perhaps better than anyone else in the National Football League from their days together in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers.

Both men have moved on from the positions they held when they shared office space with Hickey, with Smith now back with the Bucs as their head coach following a nine-year stint as the head coach of the Chicago Bears and Webster now Tennessee Titans general manager. Their impressions of Hickey and for what type of job he will do with the Dolphins are the same.

“What I remember is just a guy who came in and was a part of that initial group of personnel guys and of course coaches that went on to do good things,” said Smith, who like Hickey played defensive back at the University of Tulsa and was Tampa’s linebackers coach from 1996-2004. “Dennis is a good people person, I know that, and he’s earned it the hard way by working himself up to a position of being a head of personnel and the next natural step of course should be general manager. … He’ll do a great job working with Joe (Philbin) and the entire Dolphins organization.

Webster got his start in the NFL with the Bucs back in 1988 as a regional scout and advanced to director of college scouting and director of pro personnel during his 18 years in Tampa. When he left he was the director of pro personnel but spent 2006-09 as vice president of player personnel for the Seattle Seahawks before spending 2010-11 in the same role with Tennessee. This is his third year as the Titans’ GM and clearly took a similar path as Hickey with a similar work ethic.

“I think you’re going to get a very good evaluator, a tireless worker and I think he’ll work well with the people there,” Webster said. “Dennis has spent a lot of time working at this craft to get to this point. He’s gone from being a pro scout to a college scout to a director of college scouting to a director of player personnel and now a GM. So it hasn’t come quickly, he hasn’t taken the easy road and he’s really taken every step. He was a coach before he got into personnel so I think you’re getting somebody with a lot of experience, somebody that’s had some good success and will do a great job for Miami.”

COMBINE TIDBITS

Today was the day the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers took center stage with the media after going through their weigh-ins, measurements and physical exams. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel’s official height was a fraction under six feet, which was enough to spark talk on Twitter – all over a quarter of an inch. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner had predicted he would measure six feet, so that’s why more attention was paid to his results, but he wasn’t fazed. “I play with a lot of heart, with a lot of passion,” he said to the biggest crowd so far. “I feel like I play 10-feet tall. So a measurement, to me, is just a number.” … Manziel, also known as Johnny Football, shared that he met with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady before coming to Indy and that Brady asked him to teach him to how run and in turn he’d help him in any way. … Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, the younger brother of former Houston Texans quarterback and No. 1 overall draft pick David Carr, got a little emotional at the end of his press conference telling the story of his six-month old son, Dallas. The boy was born eight days early on August 5th with a rare medical condition known as intestinal malrotation, which means he his intestines were all tangled up and nothing was passing through. Doctors told Carr his son might die if he didn’t have emergency surgery and Dallas has had three surgeries since then, but he’s fine now. “When doctors are telling me your son might not live if he won’t have this surgery, there’s no bigger adversity,” Carr said. “Nothing anyone can say bad about me, nothing that anyone can do or say or harm me in any way will affect me because my priorities in life are my faith, my family and then football.” … Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron induced a few laughs when he fought off a question about how much money he could lose by not being picked first when he reminded everyone that he grew up with no money so “I’m used to being broke.” … Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde compared himself to Marshawn Lynch in terms of his physical running style but he also said he wants to run in the 4.4 range in the 40-yard dash. If he does he believes he will make a good case for being taken in the first round. … Auburn tackle Greg Robinson confirmed that he managed 32 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, which is a pretty impressive number but still far off from the 49 reps by Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea in 2011.
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